My friend Dr. Rachael Dunlop is a tireless promoter of science and fighter of antivaccination propaganda. I somehow missed this when she wrote it last November, but she put together a fantastic article tearing apart a whole passel of antivax lies: "9 vaccination myths busted. With Science". It’s basically one-stop shopping for the truth about vaccines.
We need people talking about the need for vaccines more than ever right now. Measles cases have nearly doubled over last year in the UK. My hometown of Boulder is suffering through an outbreak of pertussis. California is on its way to having serious epidemics due to lower vaccination rates. In North Carolina just a few days ago, a two month old infant died from pertussis.
Let me repeat that: babies die because of diseases that can be prevented by a simple vaccination. Factually-bereft antivaxxers – cough cough Meryl Dorey cough – claim that no one dies from these diseases any more. They are wrong.
Antivaccination beliefs are bad science, pure and simple. Vaccines don’t cause autism. They don’t have toxins in them that can hurt you in the doses given. They don’t overtax the immune system. Read Rachie’s article to get the truth.
What vaccines do is save millions, hundreds of millions, of lives. They protect us from diseases that used to ravage entire populations. And they save babies’ lives.
We need to keep up our herd immunity if we are to keep ourselves healthy, and that includes adults. Talk to your board-certified doctor and see if you need a booster. Please.
Reporting on the latest news about vaccinations is frustrating. For every step forward we take a step back.
1) First, the good: vaccination rate for measles in the UK has risen to its highest level in 13 years according to the UK Health Protection Agency. The rate — 90% among two-year-olds — is pretty good. I’ll note that this is for the first of two vaccinations needed; for the second dose the uptake is lower, 85%.
One bit of bad news about this is the reason behind the rate increase is thought to be due to a series of measles outbreaks in Europe. It’s an irony of life that vaccines are a victim of their own success: inoculations have been so successful in eliminating some diseases that people take for granted the diseases are gone. But they’re not gone, they’re waiting. When vaccination rates drop low enough, we see more measles. And pertussis. And the flu, and polio.
And when this happens, people get sick, and some die. A teenager in the UK recently died of measles. He had a compromised immune system, which means he relied on us, the rest of the population, to keep up herd immunity.
We failed him.
2) In Massachusetts, it is a requirement by law that children be vaccinated to enter public school. The only exceptions are due to health reasons (for example, an allergy to ingredients of vaccines) or for religious reasons. I disagree with religious exemptions when it comes to medicine — as I’ve said here and here and here— but the Massachusetts legislature is about to consider a bill that will make things much worse. The bill, if passed, will amend the previously existing law. In its entirety, the bill says:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section a child shall, upon written request of a parent to the school, be admitted to school.
What this means is that if a parent has decided for whatever reason not to vaccinate their child, all they have to do is write a letter and the kid must be allowed to attend school. I expect the reasoning behind this bill is to allow parents more freedom, but what it will actually do is greatly increase the risk of other children at Massachusetts schools for contracting serious and potentially life-threatening diseases.
The sponsor, John Keenan (D-Salem), appears to be a public safety-conscious man, having sponsored many bills to increase public safety. Going over his record I find myself agreeing with many of his policies. But this one strikes me as a bad idea.
Harpocrates Speaks has much more on this. If you live in Massachusetts, I suggest you read his article and contact your local representative about this issue.
Tip o’ the syringe to J Thomas and Todd W.
The number of confirmed cases of measles in the United States stands, as of this moment, at 152.
That’s twice as many cases as usually seen in a year, and it’s only June.
Why so many? In the article linked above, it’s made clear: parents aren’t vaccinating their kids. The reasons for that are numerous: religious exemptions, anti-vaccination propaganda, ignorance, or perhaps even just laziness. But the bottom line is that kids are getting sick.
And if you don’t think measles is that big a deal, watch this:
That is one of many stories from people who have dealt with their children getting sick… and some who have had their children die. The website Shot by Shot gives the very human and all-too-often tragic side of what happens when people don’t vaccinate. The site is put together by the wonderful people at California Immunization Coalition.
The leaders of the antivaccination movement say they speak out because they care about the children. When I see stories like these, from parents who are destroyed by the loss or serious illness of the children, I question those antivaccination advocates. And we know that when trying to sway opinion, just stating facts rarely works against antiscience claims like those of antivaxxers. I’m hoping that more parents see stories like the ones at Shot by Shot. We have the facts on our side, but we also need to touch these parents’ hearts before they’ll see the truth.
Thanks to my friend and one of my heroes, Dr. Joe Albietz, for the link to these stories.
Pertussis, known commonly as whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease. It’s bad for anyone to get, but in infants it can result in death.
We have a vaccine that inoculates people against the bacterium. Yet, because not enough people get this vaccine, we’re seeing pertussis (and measles) outbreaks in many, many places. And who suffers? Babies too young to be vaccinated.
I want you to watch the following video. It’s a segment on the Australian 60 Minutes program, which deals with this issue plainly and truthfully. It’s an extremely difficult video to watch, as you’ll see (I had to turn my head several times, to be honest) but it’s also extremely important that everyone sees it.
Pay close attention to antivaxxer Viera Schiebner. Watch her demeanor, her manner, her attitude. This is a leader in their movement? To say her view of medicine, of reality, is skewed is to seriously understate the case.
Barbara Holland Bronwyn Hancock, who works with Schiebner, justifies not getting vaccinated by making the outrageous statement that diseases can be beneficial.
I fail to see how exposing infants to potentially fatal infections is beneficial in any way.
Mia Freedman has written an excellent article about this. Apparently, only
11 8% of adults in South Australia, are vaccinated against pertussis [the 11% number is an average for all of Australia, my apologies for any confusion]. It’s tempting to blame the antivaxxers for this, but I wonder. I know a lot of my readers here are not antivax, but how many have had their Tdap booster?
I have. As much as I talk about this issue, I didn’t know I needed a booster shot for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis until recently. As soon as I found out I went to my doctor and got the vaccination. Pertussis is spread by unvaccinated adults carrying the bacterium, so getting the booster shot will help lower the reservoir of hosts.
Getting the booster may not save your life, but it could very well save the life of an innocent infant too young to be otherwise protected. Go see your doctor, ask them about it, and if they recommend it, get the booster.
My thanks to Richard Saunders for the video, and to David McCaffery — who appears in the above video with his wife Toni — for the link to Ms. Freedman’s article. David’s daughter Dana would have been over two years old now if she hadn’t succumbed to pertussis at the age of just four weeks.
Our old nemesis measles is roaring back in the US, with the CDC actually issuing a warning for travelers. Americans visiting other countries are bringing the disease back with them, and places where vaccination rates are low are seeing outbreaks. We’ve had twice as many cases of measles so far in 2011 than we did all year in 2010.
As Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, points out, it’s interesting how there is a cluster of cases in Minnesota, where antivaxxer Andrew Wakefield and others have been targeting the Somali community. Seth also notes that of the cases we’re seeing here, 89% are from unvaccinated people, and fully 98% of the people hospitalized were unvaccinated. He goes on to show the real financial cost of the disease, on top of the devastating health problems it causes.
And we have some unwelcome company: In Australia, pertussis (whooping cough) is on the rise, with more than 4500 cases so far this year.
4500. Holy crap. And this horrible disease is particularly dangerous for infants, babies too young to be vaccinated. It can and does kill them. That is the plain and very, very hard truth. In the article linked above, doctors come right out and say it’s the antivaccination movement behind this; parents who do their research on the internet about vaccines instead of talking to doctors who have devoted their lives to science, medicine, and saving people. These parents, I have no doubts, want to do what’s best for their children, but by not seeking out a doctor’s advice they are putting these children — and others — at very grave risk.
It’s really very simple: vaccinations save lives. And the lives saved may be those of the most vulnerable among us. Have you had your TDAP booster? I have. If you haven’t, please please please talk to your doctor.
Tip o’ the needle to Thomas Siefert. Pertussis image from Microbiology2009.
I know I just wrote about vaccine-preventable diseases on the rise once again, but even in the past couple of days there’s more news:
1) Houston is seeing the first case of measles in six years. The victim? An 11-month-old baby. Let’s hope she has a full and swift recovery, and no one else falls ill.
2) In that post linked above I talked about a school in Virginia that had to close down due to a big pertussis outbreak. Well, in Canada, they’re telling kids who are unvaccinated they can’t come to school; at least, not until they can show their inoculations are up-to-date. I have mixed feelings about forcing kids to get vaccinated, but in the end we simply cannot have schools be breeding grounds for diseases which are trivially easy to prevent. I read about this story on Fark, and the comments there are interesting, to say the least.
3) Seth Mnookin, who wrote "The Panic Virus" an exposé of the antivax movement, has posted his thoughts on these recent news stories. As usual, I find his comments to be well-reasoned and thoughtful.
Two things vacciney:
1) While it’s not due to antivaxxers, it’s still important: measles is making a comeback across the world. According to the article, the lack of funding is making vaccines hard to come by in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and measles is very opportunistic. With the antivaxxers still spreading their lies in America, Australia, and elsewhere, it’s all too easy for this awful disease to spread wildly anywhere it gets a toehold.
2) It’s a delicate task, talking about someone’s kid when it comes to autism and vaccinations. It’s a social minefield; you’re dealing with an innocent kid, but you’re also dealing with a parent who may be gravely misinformed and doing a lot of harm by spreading misinformation. Jenny McCarthy, though, put her son Evan front and center in the nonsense she spouts about autism, and is doing considerable harm to the public health. Skeptico has taken on her claims, and shows that her version of events seems to shape-shift according to her needs.
Tip o’ the syringe to my brother, Sid for the measles link.
The antivaxxers are getting more media attention, and it’s not good for them. NPR has a story about measles being on the rise in Vancouver, and make it clear that it’s due to antivax fear-mongering. Money quote:
CDC officials are watching the Vancouver outbreak closely, as neighboring Washington state has sizable populations of vaccine refusers.
"If measles crossed the border into those populations, there’s a potential for a sizable outbreak," says Dr. Jane Seward of the CDC.
The antivaxxers are nothing if not ironic: they say they want to protect our health, and yet put it at grave risk, and the fear they monger about vaccines is the exact opposite of what we really should be afraid of: outbreaks of preventable and potentially fatal diseases.
Tip o’ the syringe to Evan Wilson for the NPR story.
New Zealand Zimbabwe is that a religious sect there — which believes in prayer over vaccinations — may be responsible for the deaths of over one hundred children from measles.
I believe people have the right to practice their religious beliefs… up until they start to hurt others. It has been proven over and again that prayer does nothing to heal disease over the placebo effect, while vaccinations have saved hundreds of millions of people. That’s math I can do pretty easily.
If this story is true, I certainly hope that the people involved are introduced to the inside of a jail cell for a long, long time. They can happily pray there all they want, and on the outside those children can get the vaccinations that will save their lives.
I just wanted to post this graph, which I found while researching vaccinations.
Antivaxxers: bite me*. We win.